[photo: Donna Wallach]
Sunday, November 15
The fishing boat trawls only about 1.5 miles from the coast, moving south. An hour later, the catch is small, mainly crabs and a few fish.
Nets are pulled in and the boat has gone south almost as far as Egyptian waters –as far as it dares to go. The captain steers westward, into deeper waters.
Earlier, heading west from Gaza’s port, then south, we saw a fishing boat caught in the fire of the larger Israeli ship’s water cannon. A second, smaller Israeli gunboat flanked the fishing vessel on its other side, entrapping it. The fishing boat stayed under attack for 15 minutes. Longer? It’s quite possible it was already long under attack before we passed. There is no way of stopping the attack; we do not wait around.
Out in deeper waters, the smaller Israeli gunboat veers towards us, cutting within about 50 m, creating rolling waves to rock our smaller boat.
“They would have already shot us,” Mahmoud, the captian, says of the navy boat just passed by. “It’s because you are here that they didn’t shoot,” he says, referring to the presence of two international human rights observers.
We stand clearly visible on the deck, armed with cameras, when the Israeli gunboats pass. B’Tselem has documented the fishermen’s testimonies of some of the severe aggressions they’ve suffered at the hands of Israeli soldiers on the sea. Other human rights observers have also documented cases, first-hand, from the decks of the boats.
The Israeli naval boat does a u-turn, then heads slightly west and hovers at a distance southwest of us.
Our boat heads west, reaches the point where the naval boat hovers, and passes it, at its chugging speed.
The fishermen drop the net and we again trawl slowly, unimpeded.
After a while, we’ve moved far enough north from the naval gunship that it gives up monitoring us and takes off away from us.
Some time later and we’ve still not been pursued, we come into view of the larger Israeli ship equipped with the high-powered water cannon. It’s time now to reel in the nets. The men work quickly, then a bit frantically, to get their catch and their equipment above water and safely into the boat before trying to evade the boat’s attack. They are still well within 6 miles off of Gaza’s coast.
The water cannon ship is approaching. Net in, Mahmoud guns the motor –a meager 25 horsepower engine –no match for the navy’s might.
Expecting the navy’s water cannon inundation, we waterproof the boat: some of our belongings are bagged, then shoved below the deck, where the cannon is less likely to be aimed, less likely to shatter boards.
Mahmoud dismantles the VHF radio and hides it, protecting it. He has already lost to the Israeli water cannon a sonar radio ($1,500), a VHF radio ($300), a GPS reader ($300), and has had the power panel damaged twice (2 x $200) and the engine itself damaged ($2,000). The water has broken windows and torn apart walls of the wheelhouse ($2,000).
Bullet holes from the smaller navy ship’s firing dot the wheelhouse and hull, tearing wood and metal.
The water cannon ship steams towards us as we cut toward Gaza’s coast. Its horn bellows at us.
We are unable to move fast enough, and the ship gains on us. In anticipation, though still not within reach, the navy ship starts the water cannon spewing. It powers toward us, we strain towards shore.
The fishermen have donned raincoats or have stripped down to boxers. We’re now only a few miles from shore. After a 15 minute lead-up and chase, in a rare stroke of luck, the ship gives up, decides today it’s not worth it.
more information and reports:
A Palestinian fishing boat is approached by an Israeli gunboat [photo: Donna Wallach]
Israeli soldiers positioned to shoot. Israeli soldiers regularly target Palestinian fishermen, citing ‘security’ reasons, such as that the Palestinian fishermen have breached their fishing waters.
The Interim Arrangements signed between the PLO and Israel in 1994/5, stipulate that Gazan fishermen have the legal right to fish up to 20 nautical miles from the Gaza coastline.
Yet Israeli soldiers regularly target Palestinian fishermen when 6 miles off the close, even as close as 3 miles off.
**Israeli gunboat dousing Palestinian fishing boat with high-powered water cannon. (photo: David Schermerhorn)